Learning from the masters

Ad Horvers and Ginus Nusteling

Ad Horvers and Ginus Nusteling

I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with several master shoemakers. I used to travel to the Netherlands regularly for work. While searching around Leiden, the Netherlands, for something totally unrelated, I came upon J Zierikzee Maatschoenmakerij (custom shoe shop). I met the owner Ginus Nusteling. I tried to convince Ginus to come to the US to teach, but instead he put together a workshop taught by him and his retired teacher Ad Horvers at Ginus’ beautiful home in Olderberkoop. While now officially retired, Ad still keeps his finger on the pulse of the shoemaking scene. The workshop they put on for me helped me significantly to move beyond the basics and I always look forward to seeing them when I am back in the Netherlands.

Mischa Bergshoeff

Mischa Bergshoeff

In the town of Gouda I met Mischa Bergschoff. Mischa, like Ginus, graduated from the program Ad taught in Utrecht. Mischa is one of the most driven and meticulous shoemakers I have ever met. He won the best custom shoemaker award for Benelux in 2005, 2007, 2009,  2011, 2013. I’ve seen a pattern here over the years. He basically wins when he feels inspired to make shoes to compete. He also has a tremendous understanding of anatomy, physiology and foot pathologies which make his shoes more than just spectacular to see. He has generously shared his advice and critiques with me. He taught me basic foot casting and custom last making techniques and runs one of the cleanest shop you will ever see.

René van den Berg

René van den Berg

Teaching shoe design for that same shoe making program in Utrecht is Rene van den Berg. I had the good fortune to sit in on one of his design classes in 2006 when I was visiting the Netherlands. Rene is not only a great teacher and a really nice guy, but a truly exceptional designer. His work is in the shoe museum in the Netherlands, but he is still making terrific new stuff. Please see Rene’s work on his site.

There was life before shoes (and after)

Jeff Mandel skiving (photo by Wesley Bauman/Poppycock, ©2014)

Jeff Mandel skiving (photo by Wesley Bauman/Poppycock, ©2014)

I had a good liberal arts education at a public university in California. My degree was in politics and Chinese language. After many, many years working on all sorts of information technology I started looking around for something different. My good friend Greg in Eugene gave me the book “Handmade Shoes for Men.” It’s a coffee table book that doesn’t tell you how to make shoes, but it tells you about how shoes are made. It was enough to pique my interest.

I read that book many times and tried to imagine myself doing such a thing. In July 2004 I took a week off of work to take the introduction to shoemaking program at Shoeschool.com, and convinced my boss to do the same. I felt even more drawn in and searched for shoe makers to study with while travelling for work in the Netherlands. I did ok on that front (see above).

In the Fall of 2015, 11 years after taking my first shoemaking class, I studied for a semester at the Dutch HealthTec Academy. It was a dream of mine since the day I sat in on a class that Rene taught there in 2005. I wanted to have some of the experience that all of the Dutch shoemakers I knew had been through. I took anatomy and physiology, last making, and pattern design – in Dutch. While I had traveled to the Netherlands many times, I never really learned Dutch. In anatomy and physiology, language was by far the hardest part. When our anatomy teacher forgot the printed tests for the second week of class, she just read the questions aloud. Yikes, no google translate on that. It was a big hit with the class and the students themselves took turns creating tests and read them out every week trying to make the questions tricky to impress their classmates. This seriously improved my Dutch oral comprehension skills.

You can hear some shoe talk in Dutch and have a look inside the DHTA in this video about the DHTA for the kids TV program Het Klockhuis. This video focuses on the design and construction aspects of the program rather than the medical.

On the one hand, I really wish I could have taken these classes when I first started, but on the other, I feel that the experience I’ve had so far enabled me to learn more. Even if I had been told everything I needed to know in the beginning, it’s unclear how much of it would actually have stuck. I’m sure some of my classmates who were hearing some of this information for the first time will only recall it from the murky depths of memory years later and wonder why nobody had told them this. Oh yeah, I learned that in school. Learning is a lifelong pursuit.

It’s tempting to go high-tech crazy making shoes, as most shoe factories have done, but I prefer to be as sparing as possible in applying technology to my shoe making. I constantly work to improve my technique and broaden my understanding of traditional and modern materials so I can make superior shoes for you.

I’m also involved in projects not directly related to shoes. I still occasionally apply my IT skills for non-profit organizations and teach people about traffic law using animation and cartoons.

Passing it on

The outgoing and generous nature of the shoemakers I’ve met has enabled me to learn and develop the skills I have today. Together they possess a wealth of information that is extremely difficult to come by, yet they share it willingly. I strongly believe in passing that along whenever possible. Over the years I have offered free seminars on shoemaking and mentored students. You can read more about one of my students’ project here. I try to respond in a timely way to requests for general shoe making information by email and make time personally for people who have questions, projects or just want to talk shop.